The solemn and uncompromising economist: Gerald Shove, 1887–1947
This may seem rather left-field for the blog, but Gerald Shove is related to Alice Edith Vlieland (his mother’s sister) and William Millen (Alice Edith’s father who farmed with Gerald’s father at Syndale and Plumford until Herbert Shove’s early death); he also has a possible connection to ArchibaldVlieland in Singapore. William Shove, Gerald’s elder brother, was the best man at the wedding in 1906 of Frances Maude Vlieland and Reginald Peel. The bare biographical details of Gerald’s life already in the blog tell only a small part of the story.
In Fredegond Shove’s poem ‘The Farmer’, written in 1917, the year of Cambrai and Passchendaele, she attempts to call up the essence of her new husband.1 ‘The Farmer’ imagines a man of ‘solemn and uncompromising form’ walking in a field of new corn while at his back are the ‘Wide hosts of men who once could walk like him/Worn dull, quenched dry, gone blind and sick with war’ whose shades will bless him when peace comes and new life returns to the earth he has tilled. It is a romantic portrait, and Fredegond was often mocked for a devotion that was entirely blind to the darker side of her husband’s psyche, but it captures many of the contradictions that shaped Gerald Shove’s life. He was a conscientious objector and activist for peace who went before a Tribunal in 1915 to argue his case when he could have claimed a medical exemption from fighting. A brilliant schoolboy scholar, he initially faltered socially and academically as an undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge, being deprived of his scholarship after achieving only a Second in the first part of his Classics examinations (but a First after he switched to Economics). He was capable of both passionate love and destructive anger, particularly at what he saw as ‘filthy convention’ and outworn morality. And he was an economist who devised what are now seen as radical solutions to the contemporary problems of industrial hardship and unemployment, who published primarily as a contributor to others’ work and requested that all his papers be destroyed at his death.
Gerald Frank Shove was born in November 1887 at Queen’s Court farm, Ospringe, Kent, to Herbert Samuel Shove and Bertha Millen, the daughter of William Millen of Syndale and younger sister of AliceEdith Millen. Bertha married Herbert in May 1885, when she was 20 and he 31; she was widowed four years’ later, when William was almost 3, Gerald 2 and a half and Ralph 2 months old. She was by all accounts a beauty, and after Herbert’s death must have been effectively imprisoned at home with her brothers and recently widowed father (Phoebe Millen had died in the spring of 1889), with Alice Edith far away in Exeter (although she was at Ospringe in February 1888 for the birth of Phoebe Mary Vlieland). The name ‘Shove’ (which rhymes with ‘stove’, not ‘shove’, meaning ‘to push out of the way’) is both Old English (‘scufa’) and Dutch (‘schave’) in origin: it is amazing to think that there might have been two Dutch-heritage families living side by side in Syndale!
Economics (originally called ‘political economy’ or ‘economic science’) began as an academic discipline in Cambridge in 1903, and Gerald was one of its first students. He revered Alfred Marshall, the founder of the School of Economics and Political Science, but thought that he overlooked ‘the ebb and flow ... of resources from one occupation to another’ and ‘the economic problem of the real world’ which was ‘a question of fitting ... into its appropriate niche a vast number of ... individuals’: ‘a jig-saw puzzle’. What few papers he did publish show what Nicholas Kaldor has called his ‘originality as a dauntless thinker’, determined that economic prescriptions about employment and labour should address the actual experience of working men in the 1930s, forced into either unemployment or on to the new US-style industrial production lines.
Gerald was part of the generation born around 1885–95: often dissolute and even debauched, many of them fought and died less than five years after graduation. Hugh Popham, for example, a friend of Gerald at King’s who courted scandal by having an affair with Bertha in 1912, won the Croix de Guerre in 1918 for his bravery as a Royal Navy Air Service flyer over France. What Fredegond termed Gerald’s ‘eager friendships’ with fellow members of the Apostles2 at King’s, including Maynard Keynes, James Strachey and Rupert Brooke,3 were almost certainly homosexual; certainly Gerald’s letters to Keynes between 1909 and 1913 show him psychologically negative and greedy for social and academic approval.4 Despite Keynes’ advocacy, his Fellowship dissertation was rejected in 1912 and on graduation he studied for the legal Bar until he was sent to work as a farm labourer under the terms of his Tribunal decision. During the war, he published the pacifist journal Face the Facts and attempted unsuccessfully to rouse his fellow CO farm workers to strike for improved pay and conditions. Back at Cambridge as a Lecturer in 1923 and Fellow in 1926, he was essentially Keynes’ academic dogsbody to the detriment of his own work, taking on much of the latter’s teaching and administration while Keynes was working on the post-war peace settlement. He organised public meetings and rallies for the New Peace Movement throughout the 1930s but they withered once war was declared in 1939. He became ill with cancer in 1946 and died a year later; Fredegond survived him by only two years.
There is a plausible but unprovable postscript to this story. We know that when Robert Brooke-Popham arrived as Commander-in-Chief in Singapore in November 1940 he was appalled to find that military strategy was in the hands of ArchieVlieland, a civilian, quarter-Dutch, and Bertha’s nephew. Brooke-Popham had added ‘Popham’ to his name in 1904 by King’s Warrant, in tribute to his ancestor Home Riggs Popham, an admiral in the Napoleonic Wars. Is it too long a shot to suggest that for a man so jealous of his family’s honour, Archie’s presence was an affront that even further fuelled his determination to hound him out of office? Bertha died in October 1940, so never knew the longer consequences of her indiscretion, but Archie’s unmerited disgrace may have hastened Charles James Vlieland’s death two years later.
Thanks to Barbara !
1 Fredegond Shove, Fredegond and Gerald Shove, privately printed, 1952: Fredegond’s memoir of her husband, written after his death. She was a minor poet, delicate and home-schooled, who nevertheless made a succession of homes for Gerald in the damp and squalid labourers’ cottages where they lived for most of his CO service. Two of her more important poems (‘The New Ghost’ and ‘The Water Mill’ were set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams).
2 Richard Deacon, The Cambridge Apostles: A History of Cambridge University’s Élite Intellectual Secret Society, Robert Royce, 1985: Chapter 6 concerns Gerald’s generation of members.
3 Keith Hale, ed., Friends and Apostles: The Correspondence of Rupert Brooke and James Strachey 1905–1914, Yale University Press, 1998: several letters show that some of Gerald’s friends considered him their social inferior and were happy to punish any aspiration to fully enter their charmed circle, nicknaming him ‘Shovel’, ‘Stove’ and ‘his Lordship’.
4 Maria Cristina Marcuzzo and Annalisa Rosselli, Economists in Cambridge: A Study Through Their Correspondence, 1907–1946, Routledge, 2005: Chapter 7 has extracts from the Keynes–Shove correspondence. At least two letters deprecate Keynes’ predatory habits, stating that Gerald himself had neither the ‘courage or energy for such adventures’ but offering to act as a defence counsel for him were Keynes to be arrested.